chidder (chidder) wrote in woodyallen,


[T]he only thing standing between me and greatness is me . . . . I've been given more opportunities than anybody. I've been given the money and freedom for thirty-five years now to make whatever I wanted: A musical? Okay. A detective story? Fine. A drama? Absolutely. Another drama, even though the first one failed? Go ahead. Whatever you want.
—WOODY ALLEN, Spring 2005
Eric Lax's new biography, Conversations with Woody Allen, reveals a Woody not unlike the one we've been assured (usually by the filmmaker himself) has been there all along: unpretentious, lazy, dismissive of the value of his work while at the same time passionate about the process itself ("the real fun was in doing it—the planning and the execution and the busywork"), an artist for whom the best choice isn't necessarily as much a matter of aesthetics as it is convenience.

Lax began interviewing Allen in 1971 and kept coming back—for 36 years. The result is a hefty document that focuses, as the book's subtitle promises, on "His films, the movies, and moviemaking," touching on Allen's personal life only as it pertains to his professional one. Neatly divvied up into eight chapters ("The Idea," "Writing It," "Casting, Actors, and Acting," "Shooting, Sets, Locations, "Directing," "Editing," "Scoring," and "The Career"), what emerges is the portrait of a writer/director whose talents are largely instinctual, who only waxes cerebral about his films after they're in the can, and for whom fame and posterity mean nothing.

"If you can't divorce yourself from hearing about yourself and your work," Allen says, "which is not all that hard to do, then I'd advise you not to believe the compliments and the good things said about you. A good portion of them are insincere, a good portion are wrong—which leaves a very small portion to get excited over. Most hype about your work is show business flattery."

If there's a complaint with the book, it occasionally suffers from presenting too much of the same information over and over again. Lax, or his editor, should have had more faith in his readers. Still, Conversations with Woody Allen provides a fascinating look at (despite what Allen himself thinks) one of our most important filmmakers.

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